Smith and Hardeman announce $15 million of transition funding for Ontario’s beverage sector

A GROWING CONCERN- Three Dog Winery owner John Squair speaks with Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman and Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith at the Sophiasburgh winery on Friday afternoon. Hardeman was in Prince Edward County to announce the province would be committing to $15 million of transition funding for Ontario's beverage sector. (Submitted Photo)
JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Ontario’s wine, cider and distilled spirit producers who are all represented by operations in Prince Edward County will benefit from $15 million of transition funding by the government of Ontario to the beverage alcohol sector.

On Friday, Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services  welcomed Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman to Sophiasburgh’s Three Dog Winery to announce the funding.  It will allow wineries, cideries, and distilleries to continue to grow and meet consumer demand while the government reviews programs, such as the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Wine Support program,  supporting the sector.

“Prince Edward County’s burgeoning wine industry and craft beverage producers across the Quinte region have become tremendous drivers of economic development and tourism for this part of Ontario,” said Smith. “I’m pleased that Minister Hardeman has come through with this vital transitional funding while our government reviews additional measures to help this sector grow and thrive.”

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, John and Sacha Squair of Three Dog Winery, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman and County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson. (Submitted Photo)

Hardeman indicated the transition funding would also extend support to the following initiatives:

  • The  aforementioned VQA Wine Support Program to help Ontario wineries increase competitiveness and innovation. The program supports wineries investing in growing their VQA wine business, including tourism development activities.
  • The Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support Program to help eligible businesses grow and scale up their operations.
  • Marketing, tourism and export development; performance measurement and research and development initiatives.

In addition to the funding, Hardeman noted the government is proposing further changes to cut red tape for the sector, making it easier for businesses to market their products by:

  • Giving wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries with a “By the Glass” licence the flexibility to extend their service hours from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. seven days a week.  
  • Allowing authorized wineries to sell their wine at farmers’ markets and return unsold products to their on-site retail store within a 72-hour period. The previous 24-hour period forced wineries to bring products back and forth over the course of the weekend, which made retailing at farmers’ markets not economically viable.

“Our government’s priority is to make Ontario more competitive, and this includes strengthening the craft producers’ sector,” said Hardeman. “By delivering these transition programs, we are recognizing the urgent needs of the industry and helping small- and medium-sized wineries, cideries, and distilleries scale up, drive tourism, and increase demand for quality Ontario grapes, apples and grains.”

The announcement by the government comes in part due to lobbying by those in the sector concerned the province might have gone through with plans to end the VQA Wine Support program, an initiative that helped offset the import tax charged to local wineries selling in the LCBO with a 35 per cent tax credit.

Three Dog Winery owner John Squair said Friday’s announcement helped end months of speculation and worry among those in the sector with what type of program would replace VQA Wine Support.

“When we started planning our winery six years ago, this program was part of our business plan moving forward and when it looked like it might be in jeprordy, we and other wineries started lobbying the government very hard,” Squair told the Gazette. “For small Ontario wineries that are trying to compete with larger scale operations, the VQA Wine Support program is very important.Without it we would have to turn our business model upside down.”

From his prospective, Squair credited MPP Smith for meeting with and listening to beverage producers in Prince Edward County and responding to their concerns.

“We were very impressed with Todd, He came out to the vineyard a couple of times to meet with us and discuss how we would be affected. He wanted more information and, once he had this information, I think he was able to represent us at Queen’s Park and bring our concerns to the table,” Squair added.

QUICK FACTS

  • The wine and grape sector contributes $515 million to Ontario’s GDP and supports more than 9,000 direct jobs. 
  • Grape production from almost 500 Ontario growers is used to make award-winning Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines, which had $374 million in sales in 2018-19.
  • Recently, Ken Hughes, Special Advisor to the Minister of Finance for the Beverage Alcohol Review, released a report detailing the inconvenience and unfairness of the current beverage alcohol system for everyday Ontario consumers. A key recommendation was to promote competition, establish fairness for everyone and provide new economic opportunities for businesses across the province.